Happy 2020!

Hello again! 2020 has well and truly started. Maybe it is ‘officially’ too late for New Year’s wishes, but, really, can it ever be too late for good wishes? So, I wish you a very happy, healthy and fulfilling New Year!

In my last blog post of 2019, I asked myself some questions. I would have liked to start this year with some answers, but I haven’t organized my thoughts enough for that. And I am not ready to write about the things I have been knitting either, so I thought I’d ease into the New Year with an impression of our visit to the Dutch Open Air Museum during the Christmas Holiday (focusing on knitting and other fibre-related things, of course).

Houses, farms and other buildings from different periods and from all over the country have been moved to the museum over the past 108 (!) years. The first building we entered was this blue farmhouse from the east of the Netherlands:

The museum’s theme at this time of year was ‘Winter Jobs’. When there wasn’t a lot of work to do outside in winter, people did all kinds of other jobs. In this particular farmhouse the focus was on spinning (wool and flax) and knitting. There was a display of flax in different stages…

…from unspun fibres in different qualities to woven linen, from coarse and brown (right) to very fine and bleached (left).

One of the volunteers, dressed in period costume, was spinning flax on a traditional spinning wheel.

She showed us how long flax fibres are – much longer than any wool fibres.

Before flax can be spun and woven into linen cloth, it goes through many stages. The last stage before spinning is hackling. With a hackle like this one…

… the short fibres are removed from the long ones.

All this preparation before flax can even be spun! And then hours and hours of spinning and weaving. No wonder a woman’s linen cupboard was her pride and joy.

I could have spent an entire afternoon in this farmhouse alone, and if the museum wasn’t so far from where we live, I’d love to work here as a volunteer. But there was more to see, so on we went.

We saw several iconic Dutch windmills, of course, like the thatched one at the top of this post, used for pumping water, in order to drain wet low-lying areas, and this wood-sawing mill:

One of the parts of the museum I remember best from when I visited here as a child is this collection of green wooden houses from the Northwest of the country.

We were not the only ones who had this great idea of visiting the museum. In fact, it was one of the busiest days of the year.

I was dismayed when I saw the crowds at the entrance, but the park is so big that it could easily absorb us all.

The weaving shed was closed, but I peeked in through the window…

… and later bought two of the weavers’ lovely checked tea towels in the shop. This is one of them with some of the wafers I always bake on New Year’s Eve:

They are called ‘knieperties’ and are very thin, slightly sweet and have a hint of cinnamon.

Uh-oh, this is becoming quite a long blog post. I intended to make them shorter this year, but somehow there is always so much to tell. I hope you have a few minutes more.

Let’s hurry on to the cottage dedicated to knitting in World War I. On one wall there was a display of newspaper cuttings with articles urging women and girls to knit for our soldiers.

They were asked to knit scarves, mittens, socks (preferably dark grey) and balaclavas. The photograph on the left shows a group of soldiers wearing knitted balaclavas. And here is one in progress:

At the end of the afternoon we walked back to the blue farmhouse. The volunteer who sat there spinning earlier, was now knitting. She was knitting a sock in exactly the same way my mother and grandmother did and how I was taught to knit them.

Nowadays, I use a set of five short lightweight sock needles, with the stitches distributed over four and knitting with the fifth. But here you can see how it used to be done. Only four needles (long steel ones) are used, with the stitches on three needles and the knitting done with the fourth.

At this time of the day it was much quieter in the farmhouse and the volunteer had time for a nice chat about spinning and knitting. (It’s always so nice to chat with kindred spirits!)

She also showed me something I had never seen in action before – a knitting sheath. It’s a wooden stick with a hole in it, tucked into the knitter’s waistband. It was rather dark inside the house, so I hope you can see it:

The knitting sheath supports the working needle, carries the weight of the knitting, protects the knitter’s clothes from the sharp needle point and speeds up the knitting. Very interesting. I’d like to try that someday.

Well, that’s all for today. I hope to be back with a post about my own knitting soon.

For more information about the Dutch Open Air Museum, please visit their website. There is much, much more to see than I’ve shown you here.

Pre-Christmas Mulling, Baking and Making

Hello! It’s good to see you here. I hope your life is not too frantic in the run-up to Christmas.

There’s quite a bit of pre-holiday preparation going on here. And some knitting, too. And some mulling, not just of wine, but also in the sense of pondering. But before I get to that, I’d like to take you on a mini-trip to the castle in the picture at the top of this post – Middachten Castle. It’s a private property that only opens on special occasions. The Christmas opening is one of these occasions and we visited it last weekend.

Although the castle has medieval roots, the current building dates from the 17th Century. There’s a moat all around it and a bridge leading to the front door. Or, rather doors. The two glossy dark green doors were decorated with beautiful wreaths flanked by other greenery.

Unfortunately photography wasn’t allowed inside, so you’ll have to take my word for it that the Christmas trees and flower arrangements were amazing. There was at least one Christmas tree in every room and the decorations were themed to the rooms. There were bunches of cigars in the tree in the smoking room, orchids sprouting from books and Christmas ornaments made from printed pages in the library and so on.

There was a Christmas market outside and in the outbuildings…

… but looking through my photographs, I see that I was more drawn to the quiet corners…

… and architectural elements.

We ended our lovely visit with a shared bowl of barbecued mushrooms and tiny potatoes and some piping hot mulled wine.

Our preparations here, at our own modest abode, are far less elaborate than those at the castle, I’m glad to say.

Taking the Christmas tree decorations out of their box is always a special moment. I put on some music first, to get into the mood. This time it was A Christmas Together, starring John Denver and the Muppets, with The Christmas Wish as one of my favourites. It always really moves me when Kermit sings in his funny voice:

I don’t know if you believe in Christmas,
or if you have presents underneath the Christmas tree.
But if you believe in love, that will be more than enough
for you to come and celebrate with me.

Well, back to decorating, here’s one of my oldest ornaments:

With a little more time on my hands than in the past few years, I also did some baking. I looked up an old recipe for Basler Leckerlis, a kind of gingerbread from Switzerland made with honey, candied and fresh citrus peel, ground almonds, spices and Kirsch liqueur.

After baking, the leckerlis are iced with a mixture of icing sugar and more Kirsch. The heavenly warm, spicy aroma alone is worth the effort. Here they are cooling on a wire rack.

A while ago, someone said that my blog exudes a feeling of contentment – that I must be a very contented person. Scrolling through the blog posts I’ve written in the past year, I can see why people might get that impression. But contented is far from how I feel. I do feel grateful. But also worried.

With everything that’s going on in the world around us, I sometimes feel like pulling up the drawbridge, closing the shutters, and withdrawing into my castle, figuratively speaking. But then again, I don’t think that is the answer to anything.

While I’m knitting, I’m mulling over better answers. Pondering on how to make this world a better place. And on the place of knitting, and blogging about knitting, in it. So far, I’ve mainly come up with question marks. Where am I going with my knitting and my blog? Should I be going anywhere with my knitting and my blog? Shouldn’t I be doing something more important or useful? Should I go into politics? Answer to the last one: No, I’d be totally useless as a politician. I’ll ponder on the rest for a little longer.

Meanwhile, I just keep knitting.

I’m knitting a pair of fingerless mittens for a gift. They have a lovely little cable with tiny nupps (an Estonian term for delicate bobbles).

I can show them here because the recipient already knows that I’m making them. She chose the yarn and the pattern herself, in fact.

I’m also still knitting the blue cardigan I’ve been working on for quite a while. I had almost finished the second sleeve when I realized that I wouldn’t have enough yarn for the neck band and the pocket tops. Pinning the parts together to find out what could be done, I saw that the sleeves were on the long side and unravelled them to a few centimetres below the sleeve cap (not much fun with this sticky yarn, I can tell you). The one on the left is now re-knit, and I’ll soon be able to finish the rest.

When I’m stuck on a knitting project, like with the sleeves above, I get out what I call my in-between-projects-project – a large stole.

I add a few rows or even an entire stripe to it when I have no inspiration for other things. But now I’m stuck on that too, because I’m not entirely happy with the last two colours I’ve added. I think I may rip them out and substitute them for different colours, but I’m not sure yet.

In between all this knitting and baking, I also made some beeswax candles. I’ll come back to those when I’ve experimented more and can find the time to write up a post about them.

These at least literally make life a little lighter.

And finally, I’m knitting some swatches for a new design idea I have. If it works out the way I envision it, I’ll show you more sometime in the New Year.

Well, this is my last blog post for 2019. I’m taking some time off to eat, drink and be merry first. And then some time to knit, read, take naps and go for walks, so it may be a while before I’m back.

I wish you a lovely Christmas and hope to see you here again in 2020!